It’s not difficult to see that the number of cognitive inputs is getting astoundingly high. Historically, we have always had inputs to our systems that tell us all variety of things. In recent times it might have consisted of some Television involving news, activities surrounding work, social activity, reading and any other manner of things that allow us to keep our lives operating.
However, with the Information Revolution, the number of inputs has skyrocketed. We have our normal stuff and then on top of that information from our computing systems. In very recent times, these inputs have become staggering.
Balance or the Lack Thereof
Looking back in time, we have gone from a life that had a certain level of inputs to the current which can be viewed as unwieldy. Man has has to adapt to these changes. Are the changes for the better or for the sake of the changes. Could these changes have taken on a life of their own.
In the latter scenario, Jacque Ellul felt that techniques were self propelling. They would come into existence and then take on a life of their own. If they were deemed positive, there was nothing to worry about however, if they were seen as negative counter veiling techniques would have to be adopted to bring back harmony.
At any point in our evolution, balance has always been viewed as critical. As an example, there is a requirement for rest and sleep to enable us to carry out activities safely and effectively.
As we Have Evolved
If we were to look at the fifteenth century, one might wonder if a day was boring compared with the days we currently have. There is actually nothing to suggest that at all. Life was more concerned then with sheer survival. Time would be allotted to those requirements while other time to rest. One thing that is quite clear is that the number of inputs one dealt with during a day was dramatically different than today. Yes, people might worry if there would be food for the table that night yet we now worry about that in the form of money. Is there enough money to buy groceries.
However, if we go back as far as recorded history will allow us we basically started out as hunter and gather’s in tribes. I emphasize tribes as our social milieu was critically important not only to enjoyment or happiness but to safety. We relied on each other extensively so that the species (humans) could survive.
Although this might seem like a long time ago, I’m merely talking about our ability to record our happenings and thus history. Our brains, through that time, have not changed dramatically nor have our requirements. We have a requirement for socialization and stimulation but it can easily bound to the other side. We can have too much going on which can lead to dysfunction and this is over centuries.
In a very short Period of Time we have been Catapulted into Two Waves of the Information Revolution
The move from the 1800’s through the 20th century and more specifically where we are in the 21st century, we have seen an amazing amount of information flows. The industrial revolution can be considered the beginning of the present era. A very disruptive period, it saw the movement from an agrarian society to an industrial society based around cities. Many were disenfranchised during the industrial revolution leading to tremendous social upheaval, such as the French Revolution through to the Russian revolution and that of China’s grand remaking.
Looking at the end of the end of the 1800’s, we saw the introduction of the telephone a revolutionary device for its day (a scene in the acclaimed show Downton Abbey exemplifies how mysterious this gadget was only a few short years ago). It suddenly allowed people to communicate, in real time, at great distances and eventually globally. At no time, was the introduction of the telephone questioned for its role other than just how important it was to our ability to communicate with those important to us. It was seen as a positive force in societal development and consistent with that of the tribe of past which gained great sustenance from communication.
The first Wave
The information revolution can mainly be associated with the introduction of computing. Although the telephone can be considered one of the most significant aspects of information technology, what came to signify the revolutionary aspects of our current information based society is that of the computer. If the industrial revolution was seen as disruptive to mankinds way, the information revolution is astounding.
First, the introduction of the telephone dramatically changed the way in which communication could be handled. The television was introduced that allowed us to receive inputs on a variety of information topics from the comedic to the serious. However, with the creation and the introduction of the computer at the end of the second world war, the heights of change that was coming was almost impossible to grasp in the beginning. The questions that needed asking weren’t known.
During the first Wave the Impacts were Significant but not as Disruptive
The first wave of the information revolution followed the war and was based on large, monolithic mainframes that mainly catered to the business enterprise. Although affecting on society, it saw such things as the computerization of the banks. It enhanced transactions between a business and a consumer or the operation of a business. It did not overwhelm society with life altering changes that were all encompassing. If anything, one could be very clear in that this form of computerization assisted with the explosion of information.
This can be easily interpreted as the first wave of the information revolution. The information consists of dramatic volumes of new information constantly being created with the need to manage.
What differentiates the first wave from the second wave is the all encompassing aspect to our new technologies. We don’t escape them anymore say by leaving our bank and go home and chat with family, friends or the cat. The second wave is broad in its impact with multiple delivery systems; a variety of sources of information that we somehow need to deal with a manage.
The Second Wave
During the first wave, we evaluated the impacts on society by in terms of the positive or negative impacts. Although astounding in influence, there was delineation. That is, tools that we use in the second wave are all encompassing. They predominate our lives and actually lead to behavioural changes many of which you could say are not for the better (being overwhelmed, uneasy, time perceptual changes; effects on memory and addiction to the tools delivering the information).
Ultimately, we were caught off guard. The first wave was highly positive with little to no negative consequences. The second wave is much more complicated than the first. It is all encompassing and some people have trouble escaping even one little aspect of it for even a minute in a day.
As an example, internet chatting of all types is typical in the second wave of the information revolution. There are so many sources for chat it is impossible to address them all. However, what is referred to as Simple Messaging or SMS is easy to grapple with and as such we are able to determine its consequences.
It is highly addictive at both the behavioural and physical levels. It is as addictive as heroin. It is omnipresent and puts us in this state of either knowing or or not knowing which in and of itself, depending on character, leads to evidentiary truth or just the opposite (how good are you at making up a tall story).
Catching Us off Guard
Since the second wave of the information revolution appeared to be just an extension of the first wave it caught us off guard. We weren’t aware of where it could go and we were asking the wrong questions coming up with likely the wrong answers. We are now beginning to ask the right questions derived through observational psychology.
There are both positive and negative benefits to this second wave revolution. However, we ultimately must ask are the benefits worth the costs. When you are immersed in this reality of sorts all the time with questions coming at us fast and furious with few answers to provide, we become a slave of our creation.
Again, back to Jacques Ellul of 70 years ago; the power tied up in our creation of techniques without answers or awareness is extremely dangerous. Fortunately, the outcomes of the two great wars were to our advantage (we won or freedom won). However, they could have gone the wrong way. That the number who died would say they went wrong way but what if we ended up living in Hitler’s socialist world order. Where would we be today.
There are certain immediate consequences that we notice that we at one time might suggest is the result of say aging when it has nothing to do with that. It is not uncommon to hear a young person say their memory is bad. Memory decline is often associated with aging but in this case it has everything to do with all the inputs we’re managing. This sort of barrage of information affects our memory’s. People in their twenties are often noted to say my memory is so bad. This would not generally have been the case in the 70s as an example.
Another thing that is commonly noted today is a young persons sense if time. Previous to all of these invasive technologies, time seemed to flow. Now you commonly hear young people say if only I had more time or the day went so quickly. Again, the technologies are distorting the perception of time. As we age, it is not uncommon to feel time is racing by. Yet, it is very uncommon for a young person to perceive time in this fashion and thus forget about meetings as the time has raced up so fast.
One other critically important element that is being affected by all these inputs from so many sources is our ability to focus on the task at hand. We always feel distracted. If we’re reading a book instead of just enjoying the book we find that we begin thinking about something to do with our technology – a problem we were working on or just something we feel we need to get done. Add this to the memory problem and things start getting very convoluted.
Techniques already Being Designed to Counterbalance the Second Wave
Finally, society and our social systems are beginning to ask the tough questions we should have asked in the beginning. We might still be where we are but with a completely different way of looking at things.
In Jacque Ellul’s theory he said that counterbalancing techniques would naturally occur from the initial techniques. Harmony could be obtained again.
This is critically important for if it were not to happen it could be the beginning our demise. This video, which I’ve shown before, captures the lethalness of these techniques running unbridled and out of control: